Updated as of Wednesday, August 23:
The drowning death of 45-year-old former White House chef Tafari Campbell has been ruled an accident, according to a statement from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
An unidentified eyewitness who was out paddleboarding with Campbell on Sunday, July 23, told police they saw him lose his balance and fall into the water. The witness says Campbell, who was not wearing a life jacket and was not attached to the paddleboard, fought to stay above the water before eventually succumbing, MassLive reported.
The witness told police they tried to swim to Campbell to save him but “did not reach him in time.” The person then swam to shore, where they alerted someone to call 911.
According to MassLive, the investigation and autopsy wrapped up on Tuesday and found no evidence of foul play. A toxicology report is still in progress.
On Sunday evening, July 23, police received reports that Tafari Campbell was missing after going paddleboarding on a pond near the Obama’s home. According to police, another paddleboarder who was at the pond at the time saw Campbell go under water. They say he “appeared to briefly struggle to stay on the surface and then submerged and did not resurface.” Massachusetts State Police confirmed that the 45 year old’s body was recovered from a pond the following morning.
Martha’s Vineyard, an island just south of Cape Cod, is a popular vacation destination for rich and famous, including the Obamas, Oprah Winfrey and Spike Lee. The Obamas were not at their home at the time. Parts of the island are also a popular end-of-summer vacation retreat for Black entrepreneurs, creatives and professionals, especially from the Northeast. It’s not clear whether Campbell was vacationing or working on the island at the time.
The Obamas paid tribute to Campbell, who leaves behind a wife and two children, in a statement:
“Tafari was a beloved part of our family. When we first met him, he was a talented sous chef at the White House – creative and passionate about food, and its ability to bring people together. In the years that followed, we got to know him as a warm, fun, extraordinarily kind person who made all of our lives a little brighter.”
“That’s why, when we were getting ready to leave the White House, we asked Tafari to stay with us, and he generously agreed. He’s been part of our lives ever since, and our hearts are broken that he’s gone,” the statement continued. “Today we join everyone who knew and loved Tafari – especially his wife Sherise and their twin boys, Xavier and Savin – in grieving the loss of a truly wonderful man.”